No Job Title? Seriously.

Through my career services work, I have had the wonderful opportunity to meet hundreds of people from around the world who have come to Canada to live and work. I have learned, from these international job seekers, that job titles can have significant meaning in cultures, creating an important marker of status, value and prosperity. In North America, our job title is also important, giving us a sense of identity and worth.

As a career practitioner and portfolio careerist, although I see the benefit and structure job titles create in the work world, they also can have a negative impact on our sense of self-worth, skewing our decision making in the work search process. Several years ago, I was facilitating an interview skills workshop when I met a man from Africa who had a degree, but when he came to Canada as a refugee, he couldn't find work in his field. At his time of arrival, he had very little English, no Canadian experience and no Canadian education. These factors created barriers, making it difficult for him to access his field. For years, he studied English and eventually found work as a security guard, also doing odd jobs on the side. When he found himself in my interview skills workshop, he was out of work for the first time. As participants practiced accomplishment stories, he quietly confessed that he felt like a failure, and he could not identify one accomplishment since his arrival.

This lovely man adapted to a new culture, learned a new language, found a job when he had little English, raised his children, paid his bills, contributed to his new country and had saved to put his children through university and he felt like a failure because of his job title. When we pointed out all of his accomplishments and his personality traits of tenacity and adaptability, his countenance changed. The participants in his group affirmed his value through his work and the challenges he had overcome. They brainstormed his accomplishments in a new way and he left that workshop with a new sense of pride and purpose, having never looked at his accomplishments through this lens.

Job titles can undermine our sense of value and they can also skew our decisions. Recently, I have met job seekers in our current recession in Alberta who have turned down jobs, preferring to pay bills on credit rather than accept a job that is "beneath them" (their words not mine) in title and pay. I have also met job seekers who have asked me if they should travel for long lengths of time on their severance package, not because they can afford it, but because they are concerned about filling a gap in work history. They wonder if travel is better to put on their resume than a job that doesn't carry weight in their industry.

I understand the underlying concerns job seekers have around working outside of that job title box, the monetary value and the career ladder they are trying to climb. I also understand that folks are worried about the "what ifs". What if I get a better offer in six months? What do I do when the economy turns around and I want to go back to what I did before? These are all legitimate questions. However, I am left to wonder how long people can wait for that perfect fit. I'm left to wonder how long folks can go without work and still make their bills. I'm also left wondering when did a good day's work and just the simple act of supporting ourselves regardless of title stop being enough?

Zappos and Gusto are two companies, featured in the below links, that wondered the same thing. They got rid of job titles in their organizations because they believed it would strengthen their company culture and put the focus back where it needs to be - on a good day's work. They claimed titles created barriers, unnecessary power distance and prevented the flow of creativity and growth. I give these organizations props for test driving this "No Job Title" idea. It's a brave thing to do.

However, as career practitioner, I'm in the business of work search and career management so I clearly understand that job titles are still used for necessary markers of negotiation, promotion and access into higher paying positions within an organization. However, as a portfolio careerist (someone who streams income from multiple sources) I don't pay as much attention to job titles because I'm not necessarily looking to climb a ladder. I'm building a portfolio tree where the focus is on creating income streams, building relationships and looking for opportunities to add benefit and value. The portfolio style of work does blur the boundaries that bind us to job titles, and challenges us to view work in a new way.

This doesn't mean we have to end all job titles in the workforce. That isn't realistic. However, if you read the articles below on organizations that have eliminated titles, it is an interesting concept to just get rid of them altogether to see if that frees us up to work differently. Personally, I would just like to see us relax a little around job titles in our culture. It would be really nice for a job seeker to feel comfortable taking a lower paid job that has less status because for them it is a wiser thing to do for their long term financial freedom. I would prefer that job seekers not be scared of what that "outside of their industry" job would look like on their resume, or be concerned about what their friends would think.

In our current economy, many career development specialists and recruiters suggest that job seekers become open, flexible and be willing to do something new because these are valuable skill sets that employers prefer to see in potential candidates. I know we aren't going to completely eliminate job titles, at least not yet. It appears the world of work is not yet ready for Zappos CEO's Holacracy concept. I guess the "No Job Title" idea was too confusing. Nonetheless, could we please just relax a little and meet the needs of an organization that needs our help? 

I would like to end with two quick stories. I met a woman a few months ago who was a laid off accountant from the oil and gas industry and she was helping out her friend who owns a restaurant. She was serving, working in the kitchen, and doing whatever needed to get done. She said she didn't necessarily have a job title, but she added, "I quite like the variety and I can't believe I'm saying this, but I don't know if I'm going back to what I did before." She was exploring new options.

I recently learned that an old family friend had lost their job. He worked for oil and gas too. Surprisingly, through connections, he landed a new job building sets for a film. After building one set, he now has more projects in the film industry lined up. Who knows, he may be headed in a new career direction. 

What I learned from these stories? If we just relax a little around our job title and meet the needs around us, we not only can find work, we just never know where something new may lead us.

Click on these links for articles on eliminating job titles:

Companies without job titles: Gusto

Impact of job title removal: Zappos